Out There: What’s Your Mental Mantra?

Run relaxed and with a tight core, Susan Lacke has been told. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Susan Lacke reveals some of the advice she’s been given by runners and her coach. Any of these sound familiar?

I have a uterus full of marbles, and my feet are singed from hot coals. The things I do to be a better runner, I tell ya …

Like most runners, I want to become better at the sport. That doesn’t always mean faster, mind you. I’d settle for becoming injury-proof, controlling my asthma, or getting through a trail run looking a little more like a trail runner and less like a klutzy jackass. To achieve these objectives, I read the latest books about diet and training, attend clinics in my hometown, and pick the brains of my fellow runners.

It’s the last item on that list that gets me into hot-coal territory. Read a running book, and you’ll likely see advice like “strive for 180 steps per minute,” a’la Jack Daniels. Ask a runner, though, and you’ll get the same advice, only more colorful:

“You want fast, springy feet,” my friend Steve said one day as we ran along the lakefront. “So pretend like you’re running on hot coals: ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!”

He demonstrated this with a sprightly skip, each footfall punctuated with a high-pitched “ow!” Further down the path, a young mother pulled her children closer and shot Steve a bewildered glare.

My friend Jan disagrees with Steve. Instead, she swears good running comes from the core.

“Keep your pelvis tilted up when you run,” she said as she grabbed my hip bones and rotated them toward my belly button. “Pretend like you have a bowl of marbles in your uterus. They’ll spill if you don’t keep your core engaged.”

I closed my eyes and uncomfortably visualized a tiny bowl of marbles in my lady parts. Jan sharply poked me just beneath my belly button. “Do you feel it? Do ya? Don’t spill your uterus marbles!”

“Jan,” I sighed as I shot a glare over my shoulder, “do you think maybe you could not molest me while we’re in line at Starbucks?”

Jan turned around and came face-to-face with a businessman wearing an expensive suit and a look of disgust.

“Hey, man,” she nodded, “nothing to see here.” She turned back to me and pointed a finger at my midsection: “Uterus marbles. Don’t forget it.”

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My coach says I’d see huge improvements in my running if I would just relax my shoulders. Apparently, I tense up and scrunch my ears to my clavicle when I run. In addition to restricting my rib cage and draining my energy, tension in this area also contributes to the four-chin phenomenon, which seems to make its appearance in every single race photo I’ve ever taken.

“Make that your mantra,” encouraged Coach Dude. “Relax. Relaaaaaaax.”

“What about my core?” I countered. “That’s not supposed to be relaxed.”

“True.” He nodded. “Relaaaaaaax. Then engage!”

“That’s contradictory.” I pouted. “I need to write a crib sheet on my arm to remember all of these.”

I’m told that with practice, these little tweaks to my form will come naturally. I hope that’s true, because at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’m running further into jackass territory.

RELATED: Out There: Confessions Of A Nerd

Still, I know these pearls of wisdom are likely better than any book or running clinic — they’re the language of our community, colorful and vibrant stories that get handed down from one runner to the next. Steve got the hot-coal advice from his dad, who instilled a love of running that Steve now passes down to his own children. Though a bit rough, Jan’s advice works — she knows firsthand, because her collegiate cross-country coach yelled it at her at practice one day, and she never forgot to engage her core after that.

And for stories like that, I’m grateful — not only for the help in becoming a better runner, but for the privilege of picking Coach Dude’s brain, of being manhandled in a Starbucks, and doubling over with laughter as I watch my friend skip along the lakefront. Runners are a unique bunch.

And I’m proud to say I’m one of them, even if I still need a hilarious crib sheet to figure it out.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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